Does your content strategy proactively plan for the attack of UGC? 

A few weeks ago, I wrote the time has come to redefine Content Strategy (see The Content Conundrum: Redefining Content Strategy). Things have changed significantly in this Content-driven era: not only have we witnessed the rise of Social networking, explosion of user-generated content and rise of mobility -- we’ve seen the convergence of the three at the same time. How cool is that?

Content strategy is also about strategically applying content -- not just generating and managing it. And the application is determined by how content, like any other business asset, supports corporate goals.

That’s the easy part.

Content Strategy & User Generated Content

The conundrum we face is how to make our Content Strategy flexible and adaptable to factors and variables we cannot control. The new threat to the business world in the Content Era is the highly unpredictable User-Generated Content (UGC).

Example from Twitter:

May 19: "We regretfully admit that something has happened off of the Gulf Coast. More to come."

May 21: "Sadly we can no longer certify our oil as Dolphin Safe."

The first tweet on May 19th is pretty innocuous; the second makes it clear that this is from anyone but BP’s Global PR group. And while there’s been plenty written on how BP could have, should have and ultimately failed to act efficiently or effectively to their predicament (I’m referring to the Tweets and not the spill itself…) this shows the influence that user-generated content can have. More people became interested in the fake BP than the real one. Perhaps we’ve found where the wild things really are: the Twitterverse. So how does a company plan for the UGC impact? Are they even equipped to?

UGC is a Real Threat 

The business world is slowly opening the social door, establishing their social media and blogging guidelines, and deploying social networking and collaboration tools to better engage with employees, customers and partners. We’re even seeing more frequent use cases in which companies apply content as a source of capital that is monetized over the internet. What I haven’t seen is a content strategy that addresses a full frontal UGC attack like the one above from alleged BP employee, Terry. One thing is for certain: the unpredictable nature of UGC presents a significant threat.

Compounding this threat: User generated content does not have the same standards or guidelines as corporate content. End users are free to write anything -- like a nasty scathing tweet, blog or online post -- and publish within seconds. This content isn’t constrained or delayed by legal department review, feedback loops and managerial approval. And there’s no Twitter police to verify, at the ‘time-of-Tweet’, that what you’ve written is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. This means the content could be intentionally fabricated or inaccurate. How does any business or government agency compete with that?

And a Significant Cost for the Business

One can only imagine the scores of executives, communication experts, crisis management professionals, lawyers and countless others who were involved in BP’s content and communication strategy -- can you imagine what those billable hours have totaled?

For IT, it’s creating complexity and cost. Website administrators monitor content to catch offensive language, inappropriate content, copyright infringements and anything that could be regarded as a potential liability. Storage has reached exobyte levels -- that’s one billion gigabytes.

BP is an easy target and sure, it’s an extreme case. But it’s a good example of the UGC impact. Has the business world learned and reformed based on the lessons it presents? BP provides a great case study of what NOT to do :

Release date: 10 June 2010 (from BP.com )

BP notes the fall in its share price in US trading last night. The company is not aware of any reason which justifies this share price movement.

I’m not attributing BP’s corroded share price to social sites and User Generated content. But it serves as a cautionary tale. One thing is for sure: there’s no way the business or private sector can compete with the volume of user generated content. Nor should they. But how can a content strategy be agile and responsive when faced with a UGC attack? It only takes one tweet.

If your content strategy addresses the risks and rewards of User Generated Content -- tell me more about it.